The Rock Cats are taking shape on the field. Off the field, they're spitting in the face of the recession.
After a slow start, the Cats bats are exploding with hits the way I envisioned when I was at spring training. The starting pitching is holding its own right now and the bullpen, although it burped against Trenton, has basically been phenomenal.
I urge local fans to get a glimpse of two very promising players who will be wearing big-league duds someday. Third baseman Danny Valencia and catcher Wilson Ramos can play this game. The sound and velocity of the ball leaving their bats conveys a message that they are special talents. Given the changing nature of Double-A baseball, they may not be here all that long so make your plans.
If you don't, rest assured that somebody else will. The attendance at The Emerald has been nothing short of sensational with the Cats leading the Eastern League in per-game average by 800 over the second-place Portland Sea Dogs.
Don't read too much into that as far as New Britain ending up on top. The stadium simply cannot hold the kinds of crowds that places like Portland and Reading bring in when the weather warms up but this is the best early spring the Cats have ever had. The sales people are doing a magnificent job and people are responding through walk-up sales at the ticket windows.
There is not a better entertainment bargain anywhere so it should be of no surprise, especially when fans try to buy their annual allotment of tickets in Fenway or The Bronx. The Sox and Yanks will probably start offering mortgages on their ticket deals.
In Boston, $30 won't even get you a parking space. In New Britain, it gets four family members into a Wednesday game and each gets a hot dog, soft drink and box of popcorn. Okay, we're not watching major leaguers here, but the savvy local fan has seen Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis over the last six or seven seasons.
In New York, $7 won't even get you in a game of three-card monte but in New Britain, you can get seats so close to first base that you'll be ducking on high throws from shortstop. And we have seen the likes of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Brett Gardner and Ramiro Pena.
I would like to encourage anybody who considers a Rock Cats visit to think ahead. First, tickets for key series can get to the premium stage, particularly fireworks Friday nights and games against the Red Sox and Yankees minor league stars. Also, come out early. The Rock Cats offer all kinds of pregame festivity, batting practice is fun to watch and you avoid the inevitable parking lot jam-ups that leave cars creeping down South Main Street and stuck on the Route 9 spur from the south that feeds right into Willow Brook Park.